Cyclone Does Not Deter Mission Work in Fiji

Cyclone Does Not Deter Mission Work in Fiji

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… on the Island Vanualevu in the town of Labasa

 

Life is best defined as a mystery; a wonderful mystery of God.

 

In this mystery, when we arrived by plane from Nadi of Vitilevu to Vanualevu, we had just spent four peaceful days at the mission center of Saint Paraskevi in the village of Sabeto with Archbishop Amphilochios of New Zealand and Fiji, Tonga and Samoa; our Gheronda.

In His Eminence’s presence, one senses deeply the patient fatherly love of our Heavenly Father. Naturally at the center of the work we do is prayer.  Vespers and “apodypno” (sometimes referred to as “compline) which are said each evening, and each morning, orthros. We then share our breakfast, mostly in serene silence – accompanied only by the birds chirping and greeting the morning! After breakfast, Gheronda might say an encouraging word to all- and then perhaps a reading. One morning he read to us from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians; “…correct one another in a spirit of gentleness,” and on other days he has shared readings from the “Gherontikôn” (Desert Fathers) about proper behavior becoming of monks- “respectful shyness and avoiding vain curiosity” which he said applies to lay people as well,) and about greed versus grace (pride versus humility).

Arriving by plane in Labasa on Friday with hopeful and joyous anticipation, we were heartily received by our Fr. Barnava, formerly a Hindu. He and his family came into the Church at the kind invitation of Gheronda on a providential meeting five years ago. Fr. Barnava then felt Gheronda’s holiness and Gheronda felt Fr. Barnava’s humility. It was meant to be. The Church is alive and well now in Labasa and nearly 100 (men, women and children) have been baptized – including the 23 that we baptized on this trip. The baptized couples have also now been wed.

We were received into Fr. Barnava’s home with true, embracing philoxenía. A sumptuous meal of curry and dal (like Greek fakés but spicy) with heaps of steamed white rice and a refreshing cucumber salad was readily served us by Presvytera Maria. We then said vespers and retired to comfortable quarters which they had arranged for us. By the grace of God and with the Archbishop’s blessing, on Friday morning the first fourteen were baptized – Oh! What joy!

Preceding the baptisms of course, is the Service of the Catechumens – but actual catechism also was given: the meaning of doing one’s cross; God from heaven sent into the world His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ – and we have protection on all sides by the Holy Spirit; the why of the three fingers together and the meaning of other two; Christ’s own example and His commission that we baptize “all nations” («πάντα τα έθνη») and the continuous prayers that we all have of the Theotokos, our Panagia. Together we also enjoyed learning a song about her many names: “Panagia Despoina”.

Saturday, the wonderful ecclesial climate of agape-love was not overtaken by the intense heat and high humidity, as the feared cyclone (named “Winston”) was closing in, weaving in and out among the islands. That evening businesses closed, a curfew was imposed as the winds and rain raged! Everyone throughout the islands was in a prayerful mood. Needless to say, the other baptisms had to be postponed. It was said that this might be the biggest cyclone in their recent history.

Saturday night the islands were hit. Intense prayer everywhere – as the strong winds and rain increased. Except for a few generators, all electricity was out. There was property and landscape damage everywhere, certain parts of the Fijian Islands were hit harder than others. Hundreds were injured. May our good and eternal God grant rest to the 21 persons who perished.

On Sunday morning – true Resurrection! Labasa was spared the full force of Cyclone Winston. As God allowed and though the police were standing guard (keeping the curfew), we were allowed to drive to our Saints Nicholas and Athanasios Church. The newly illumined and many others who also were allowed out despite the curfew were in attendance. And we celebrated one of the most very thankful liturgies ever! After a light refreshment we then celebrated another 9 baptisms and two more weddings!

By the patient and Apostolic work of Archbishop Amphilochios, the Church is growing here on the Fiji Islands and the kingdom of God is procuring more prospective members.

Glory to God! Amen!

 

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Archimandrite Christodoulos Papadeas

Archimandrite Christodoulos -Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology [M.A. '86, M.Div. '07] Fr Christodoulos was born and raised in the Church by pious and faithful parents in Denver, Colorado; he has interests ranging from sports, music, theater and graphic arts to theology and history, and he has used his God-given talents in multiple ways: graphic designer for Walt Disney Studios ('81-'83), then studies at Holy Cross ('84-'86, '06-'07), then having been awarded the Taylor Scholarship he lived at Moni Vlatadon in Thessaloniki for six months, after that he was parish youth director at St Anthony's in Pasadena, Ca ('87-'88); then after a three year novitiate (beginning in '88) he took monastic vows ('91) at picturesque "THARRI" - the Holy Monastery of Archangel Michael of Rhodes under the revered mission-minded tutelage of the present Metropolitan of New Zealand (+Archb. Amphilochios); he was ordained ('92) and granted the "ofikion" of Pnevmatikos ('94), made periodic mission trips back to the Archdiocese of America and to Canada, to India and to Albania; in 1999 he was sent to the Metropolis of Denver where, while serving as a supply-priest, he founded the Brotherhood of Saint George; an urban oasis of peace and prayer (hermitage/shrine); he then served in the Metropolis of New Zealand (Chancellor, '08-'11) assisting his former Abbot; also with the opening of the St Paraskevi Sacred-Mission Center on the Island of Fiji; and since September 2012 he has been assisting Metropolitan Alexios for our Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta as IEROKYRIX (traveling Preacher/Confessor).